In our last of a three-part series about album cover art, let?s again examine a few controversial album covers.
It seems that a major retailer in the U.S. wields a lot of power and influence. When ?John Cougar Mellencamp? released his 1996 album called ?Mr. Happy Go Lucky,? a picture on the cover of Jesus and the devil had to be changed. Since it did not affect the music and he did not design the cover, Mellencamp obliged and changed the cover to appease the previously named major retailer.
Rapper ?Ice-T? joined the foray with his critically acclaimed 1991 album release called ?Death Certificate.? It seems an album cover showing ?Uncle Sam? on a mortuary slab as well as Ice-T?s violent lyrics, prompted one state (Oregon) to enforce a statewide ban on displaying the rapper?s image in retail stores.
Alternative rockers? ?Jane?s Addiction? singer Perry Farrell caused quite a stir in 1991 as well. When he submitted his original artwork for the band?s sophomore album, ?Ritual de lo Habitual,? to his record label (Warner Brothers), they were not pleased. They released it and the sparks flew, and under corporate pressure, the group relented and replaced Farrell?s artwork with a plain white cover and text from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech.
In 1997, ?Aerosmith? released their new album titled ?Nine Lives? which featured a dancing figure with a cat?s head. The artwork, taken from Hindu imagery, aroused the anger of some Hindus and the band and record company apologized, and then changed the artwork.
Alternative grunge giants, ?Nirvana? raised the ire of two retail giants (Wal Mart and K Mart) in 1993 with their album cover art and a song on their album ?In Utero.? The back cover of the release was changed to read ?Waif Me,? instead of the real title of the song ?Rape Me.? Despite the band?s insistence that the lyrics for the song were, in fact anti-rape, these aforementioned retail giants insisted on the wording change. The retail giants also refused to stock the album because of its artwork (which featured an anatomical figure and model fetuses), so a ?doctored? version of the back cover was made for them.
The band ?Beautiful South? released an album in 1989 called ?Welcome To The Beautiful South,? and the original release pictured an image of a woman with a gun in her mouth and a picture of a man who was smoking a cigarette. This album cover was banned by the retailer Woolworth?s because, in their reasoning, it might cause people to start smoking. The album cover was replaced by pictures of a rabbit and a teddy bear.
Smoking also got the band the ?Arctic Monkeys? in trouble with the ?censors? in 2006, because of the cover for their release ?Whatever People Say I Am, That?s What I?m Not.? The cover sleeve depicting a friend of the band smoking a cigarette was criticized by the NHS in Scotland. They claimed that the band was ?reinforcing the idea that smoking is OK,? a charge that the band disputed. In fact, the image on the CD itself is a shot of a full ashtray and the band?s product manger declared, ?You can see from the image smoking is not doing him the world of good.?
In a sad tale of irony, the band ?Lynyrd Skynrd? had their album called ?Street Survivors? (1977) pulled by executives after three band members were tragically killed in a plane crash. You see, the first album cover featured a picture of the band surrounded by flames. The album was released a week before the plane crash that killed singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and back up vocalist Cassie Gaines. The cover was quickly pulled and the replacement cover, a picture of the band without the flames, was quickly introduced. CD reissues have restored the original cover.
With an increase in the sales of vinyl record albums and a renewed interest in album cover art, we should, and can expect more censorship, controversial album cover art as well as legendary album cover art to again become part of rock and roll lore.